Chapecoense's fallen heroes return home to Brazil

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Story highlights

  • The victims were honored in Medellin before their coffins were flown to Brazil
  • A massive memorial is scheduled for Saturday in Chapecó, the team's hometown

Medellin, Colombia (CNN)The tragic fairy tale came to an end Friday, as members of the Cinderella soccer team killed in the crash of LaMia Flight 2933 returned home to Brazil.

The would-be rivals to Medellin's Atletico Nacional were paid funerary honors usually reserved for dignitaries and presidents. As the caravan carrying 64 coffins made its way down the streets of the Colombian city, crowds cheered "Let's Go Chape" and waved goodbye with white flags.
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The Chapecoense football club was traveling to Medellin late Monday to compete in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, one of the continent's main tournaments. It was meant to be one of the scrappy team's finest moments, after rising through the ranks from fourth division to A-listers in Brazil's competitive regional soccer leagues.
Moments before the flight was to land at Jose Maria Cordova International Airport, the plane crashed into a mountain, killing 71 people on board. Six people survived, including three Chapecoense players who are still in critical condition.
Personal videos that emerged after the accident show a jubilant atmosphere on the plane before it took off from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, where LaMia airlines is headquartered. Players and coaching staff could be seen joking with crew members and journalists, who all seemed excited about the trip.
Roberto de Marchi's cousin Nilson was one of those on board. At 29, he was the youngest member of the team's board of directors.
"I had to come here to see and give some comfort to my family in Brazil also because they know someone is here," de Marchi told CNN as he stood in the funeral home where the remains of his cousin and the other victims were prepared for burial and repatriation.
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The Brazilian Air Force provided three Hercules cargo planes to fly Nilson and the rest of the team to Chapecó, the small southern Brazilian town they called home.
A military guard of honor and brief prayer took place at Medellin's airport as the coffins were brought onto the tarmac to be loaded onto the aircraft. Each was draped with a white Chapecoense flag and a green sash, with the name of each victim inscribed in gold.
Brazil's ambassador to Colombia, Julio Bitelli, attended the ceremony and said the whole ordeal has been heartbreaking.
"Everything was ready for a beautiful party," Bitelli told CNN. "It was a fairy tale. A small club from a small town ready to play what would be their most important match in history."
Instead of a party, the small town was planning a massive memorial for Saturday in Chapecó's Arena Condá, where hundreds of thousands of friends and fans were expected to give their final farewells to their fallen heroes.
As officials try to figure out the cause of the crash, Bolivia's attorney general, Ramiro Guerrero, said he has invited his counterparts in Brazil and Colombia to the city of Santa Cruz to work on the investigation.